TV Review: Sherlock: His Last Vow

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this review unless you have seen Sherlock: His Last Vow

His Last Vow, the third episode of BBC One’s Sherlock, takes us to some dark, twisted places. Free from the relative bonhomie of the first two episodes that have marked Sherlock Holmes’ return to the world of the living, this finale gets back to the nitty-gritty of real detective work as the super sleuth faces-off against a new, formidable villain.

The villain in question is Charles Augustus Magnussen, played by The Killing’s Lars Mikkelsen, an unctuous media mogul with perpetually sweaty palms who keeps a vault packed with the most salacious secrets of the rich and famous, and uses these ‘pressure points’ to assert control over every important person in the western world. The perverse pleasure he draws from licking the face of an unfortunate MP or flicking the eye of another victim gives Magnussen a Hannibal Lecter-like creepiness that the Danes seem to do so well. Mikkelsen’s character is a control freak if ever there was one, strolling into every scene with an effortless authority that allows him to dictate any conversation and even urinate in Sherlock’s fireplace.

It’s no surprise, then, that Sherlock refers to him as the one man he truly despises as he is ineluctably drawn into the blackmailer’s murky world through a case of stolen letters involving the MP who is leading a government inquiry into Magnussen’s dealings. But this swiftly moves into even darker territory as an even more important client emerges and an old enemy returns to taunt the master detective.

After all the playfully clever survivor-theories and stag-du anecdotes of the first two episodes, it’s good to see Sherlock getting back to some old-fashioned sleuthing and once again facing off against a truly terrible villain.  This, I feel, is when Cumberbatch’s kinetic performance really works with Sherlock deep in the throws of an obsession that takes him to a seedy crack den and unexpectedly places him into conflict with his brother, Mycroft, who appears to have a vested interest in the fate of Magnussen. As such, this episode is far darker, and far more compelling because of it, especially as events strike deep to the heart of Sherlock and Watson’s lives in surprising ways.

It does flag a little in the middle, seemingly flailing after a juicy twist, with lots of the series’ trademark style but very little action to back it up as Sherlock waits patiently for his prey to expose himself again. But the episode very quickly gets back on track, recalling The Empty Hearse’s connection with the London Underground and subtly referencing Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Empty House as things pound along to a typically unexpected and explosive conclusion that is sure to mount more than enough speculation to keep die-hard fan boys occupied for another two years.

The third series of Sherlock has been one of highs and lows. After cleverly side-stepping the tricky issue of explaining Sherlock’s faked death the writers seemed to get so stuck in re-establishing the chirpy bromance between Cumberbatch’s Holmes and Freeman’s Watson that the investigative drama fell into the background. But with His Last Vow Stephen Moffat brings Sherlock back to it’s very best. By turns heart-wrenching, endlessly surprising and utterly compelling, as usual Sherlock Holmes saves his best tricks for last.

Click here to watch the trailer for Sherlock: His Last Vow


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